Tips and tricks for cooking with chiles

By Jane RodmellJane Rodmell

Poblano chili

Photo by Jim Norton

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Chile 101:

Mild

Poblano: Thick, green to red smoky-sweet flesh, ideal for stuffing. Dried, it’s an ancho.

New Mexico, Anaheim: Two similar, narrow chiles with smooth green to red flesh.

Cubanelle: Yellow-green, thin flesh. Easy to find.

Medium

Jalapeno: Smooth, dark green. Smoked and dried, 
it’s a chipotle, often canned in adobo sauce.

Serrano: Smooth, medium green. Slightly smaller and hotter than jalapeno. The most-used fresh chile in Mexico.

Guajillo: Often dried. Slender, red-brown, and smooth. Varies from mild to hot; good in soups and stews.

Hot!

Arbol: Slim, usually dried. Use crumbled or whole in soups and salsas.

Thai bird: Small, bright red. Can sub for fresh arbol.

Scotch Bonnet, Habanero: Close cousins, these small, fiery-hot chiles ripen from green to yellow, orange, or red.

 

Cooking tips:

Swapping
Although each chile variety has its own flavour—some are fruitier, some more tannic—it’s okay to substitute chiles of the same heat level.

Handling
Most of a chile’s capsaicin, the heat-producing compound, is in its veins and seeds. Remove them to tone down the fire. Wear gloves and never rub your eyes.

Rehydrating
To use dried chiles, remove and discard the stems, veins, and seeds, then toast the flesh in a hot, dry pan to improve the flavour. Soak in warm water until soft.

Storing
After opening a can of chipotles, refrigerate unused chiles, with sauce, in covered containers; they keep for weeks. Or purée with a teaspoon or two of vegetable oil; freeze in an ice cube tray and pop cubes into a freezer bag. Store dried chiles  in plastic bags in a  cool cupboard. They become dry and  brittle if exposed 
to air. Don’t neglect  your chili powder too long either. It’s like a romance—ignored, the sizzle quickly fades.

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